UNHCR starts moving Somali refugees to new camp in Ethiopia

UNHCR begins relocating Somali refugees from a transit centre in eastern Ethiopia to a new camp at Melkadida. The first convoy transported 247 Somali refugees.

Somali refugees alight from a UN truck after arriving at a transit centre in Dolo Ado.  © UNHCR/P.Wiggers

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, February 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has begun relocating Somali refugees from a transit centre in eastern Ethiopia to a new camp some 65 kilometres away. The first convoy, consisting of 11 buses and two trucks carrying their luggage, transported 247 Somali refugees last Friday from Dolo Ado to the camp at Melkadida.

The refugees had fled worsening security and limited access to humanitarian aid in central and southern Somalia over the past weeks. They are part of a group of 7,000 Somalis who have recently been recognized as refugees by the Ethiopian government with UNHCR expert support.

Melkadida is the second camp in south-east Ethiopia and the fifth camp in Ethiopia accommodating Somali refugees. The first one in the south-east, Bokolmanyo, which opened in April last year to accommodate 20,000 refugees, has reached full capacity.

The land at Melkadida on which the new camp was constructed has been provided by the local authorities. It can accommodate up to 20,000 refugees. UNHCR and its partners are expanding basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation services, a health centre, basic communal facilities and a children's centre. Establishment of schools and other facilities and services is planned.

After arriving at Melkadida, refugees spend three days in a reception area and are then moved to their allocated plots of land. Tents have been erected until permanent shelters are in place. Refugees are provided with food as well as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans and mosquito nets. The plan is to relocate 500 refugees a week from the transit centre to the new camp.

The Somali Region of Ethiopia already hosts more than 60,000 Somali refugees in four camps - Au-Barre, Bokolmanyo, Kebribeyah and Sheder. Somalis are arriving in Ethiopia at an average of 200 people per day and UNHCR is already planning for further camps near Melkadida.

At the peak of the Somali refugee crisis in the early 1990s, the region hosted 628,000 refugees in eight camps. The overwhelming majority of those refugees returned to their homes between 1997 and 2005 and all but one camp had been closed. Three new camps had to be opened in Ethiopia in 2007, 2008 and 2009 due to renewed conflict across the border.

The context behind this is a situation in Mogadishu in which some 13,600 people have been forced from their homes over the past two weeks alone as a result of clashes between government troops and armed opposition groups. At least 50 people were reportedly killed and more than 100 injured since the conflict intensified.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is carrying out a distribution of emergency relief items, including plastic sheets, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans and sanitation and hygiene items to 18,000 displaced people in villages around Dhussammarebb in central Somalia, where more than 28,000 people were displaced in January following renewed clashes between the Alu Sunna Wal Jamma and Al-Shabaab militias earlier this year.

By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Roberta Russo in Nairobi, Kenya